Ballyduff’s young guns have shown few signs of being intimidated so far this year, it’s unlikely they’ll start now against Causeway this Sunday
Ballyduff manager Garry O’Brien and Causeway boss Stephen Goggin are due to go golfing together in Kenmare this weekend, believe it or not.
The two good friends regularly shoot eighteen holes with one another. Still it's hard to imagine the pair will keep their date for this Saturday afternoon. Maybe they will. And if they do, it’d sure be some fun to follow the duo around the beautiful course at Kenmare Golf Club.
What would they even say to each other? Anything and everything except anything whatsoever to do with the County Senior Hurling Final due to take place twenty four hours down the line, surely.
Still it’d be some act of serious self discipline from both men to avoid the elephant in the room, particularly as these are both dyed-in-wool hurling men. Living and breathing for the sweet science.
We’ve to imagine that nearly every waking thought both men have had since the completion of the semi-finals has been bound up in this clash of the titans next weekend. Bound up with thoughts of how to best the other.
Nothing that will happen on Sunday afternoon will dent the friendship between these two men, of that we can be certain, the conflict between them in their present roles merely a case of healthy competition. All the same it adds a little spice to the affair.
Such is the nature of Kerry hurling that there are connections such as theirs all over the place. Take Causeway and Ballyduff. They're not just neighbouring clubs, they share the one ecclesiastical parish. Cheek to jowl and then some.
It makes the rivalries on field all the keener, raising the stakes for what’s sure to be one of the great days. The County Hurling Final is one of the best days of the domestic calendar, better than its football equivalent we would argue.
Why? Because it's more intimate. It’s a whole community affair with people from every club turning out to watch the action unfold. The stakes, oddly enough, feel that much higher too. Bragging rights count for a lot around the parishes.
So who will have the bragging rights come 5pm next Sunday afternoon? Will it be Ballyduff or Causeway? Will it be O’Brien or Goggin next time they play a round of golf? Honestly, it's really hard to say.
After the first semi-final between Ballyduff and Crotta O’Neills, we left Austin Stack Park fairly convinced we’d seen the likely champions. Ballyduff when they're good, boy they're very good indeed.
Fast-forward twenty four hours and Causeway down the reigning county and Munster champions, Kilmoyley, and all of a sudden you’re left to readjust your thinking once more. The character of these Causeway men has to be seen to be believed, they’re the real deal.
Both these teams are and that’s the thing. There really shouldn’t be very much to choose between these sides. Ballyduff are probably that bit more exciting to watch and we’re always predisposed to being drawn to a new side coming through the ranks.
Causeway, though, have that bit of steel about them. Really they could have sunk without a trace this year being down as many players as they have been. Instead it's pulled them together even closer than ever before.
The unity of purpose Causeway have has been clear ever since their victory in the first round of the group phase against St Brendans. Underdog status seems to suit these guys. Even within games when the pressure comes on that's when they're at their best.
Down to fourteen men against Ballyheigue? No hassle, they’ll just kick on. Down by seven second half points to Kilmoyley? No need to panic, just double down and go hard at it right to the very last moment.
That never-say-die spirit means that Causeway won't be far away at all at any stage of this game. Even if Ballyduff do as they've been doing all season long and open out a substantial lead, can you truly say that Causeway won’t be able to strike back?
It’s an interesting contrast on that basis alone. The team that likes to pull clear, against the team that can pull back seemingly insurmountable deficits. It should mean this game is in the balance right to the very last minute.
There’s a contrast too in terms of youth versus experience. It’s going to be a first county final for a lot of these young Ballyduff men. Guys like Adam Segal, Seán O’Connor, Kyle O’Connor, Kevin Goulding, and Kieran O’Carroll.
They’re hugely exciting young players off the Ballyduff production line, but a county final is very much its own beast. Still it’s not like Ballyduff are lacking for experience heads around the place with guys like PJ O’Gorman, Paud Costelloe and, of course, the famed Boyle brothers, Pádraig and Mikey.
Nevertheless this Causeway side are properly battle-hardened over the last number of years. They've been in the semi-finals and finals for the last five years straight, playing in two finals along the way. There’s a reservoir of experience that can’t be bought.
Causeway might lack a little in depth this year – for the reasons we’ve already outlined – but their starting fifteen is as good as anything out there. Muiris Delaney at full-back is back playing at his very best.
Jason Diggins at centre-back is a colossus of a man. Keith Carmody at midfield plays at a really high level (good enough to feature for the Kingdom truth be told), while up top they’ve got the firepower to go toe-to-toe with Ballyduff.
Maybe earlier in the championship that might not have been the case. The return to the fold of Brandon Barrett, however, has changed the calculus there, while Kerry stars Colum Harty and Gavin Dooley are well capable.
Harty, as we’ve said many times before, has a habit of scoring big and important goals. If he could deliver one this weekend it could make all the difference, as goals are sure to be a factor here.
With the Boyle brothers in the kind of form they’re in at the moment, a goal from either or both is practically guaranteed. As fine a set of defenders as Causeway have, is anyone there who can limit Pádraig and or Mikey? And even if they do the younger players like Goulding and O’Carroll are flying it too.
When it comes down to it, we're going to stick with our initial gut-check after the Crotta victory: Ballyduff are, just about, our fancy to win this one. There’s just something about Ballyduff when they get to a final and even accounting for the difference in experience overall, nothing we’ve seen from Ballyduff’s younger players this year suggests a nervousness (even admitting finals take on a life of their own).
Causeway absolutely can win this game and there probably won't be more than a handful of points in it at the last – remembering that these two sides played out a draw in the group phase – but betting against a rising Ballyduff in a final seems like madness to us.
Whatever happens, we should be in for a cracker either way. What more could you ask for?